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ADHD and Risky Behavior in Adults

Why risky behavior sometimes accompanies ADHD.
By Marianne Wait
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD

Everyone takes risks now and then. But if you have ADHD and it’s not being treated, risky behavior can be more the norm. That can interfere with jobs, relationships -- life in general.

The ADHD Connection

People with ADHD often have “a serious impulse control problem,” says Russell A. Barkley, PhD. He's a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Medical University of South Carolina.

You may make quick decisions without regard to the consequences, he says. 

ADHD can cause problems with “prioritizing, identifying risk, waiting to get all the facts before making decisions,” says Steven Cuffe, MD. He's the chair of the department of psychiatry at University of Florida College of Medicine, Jacksonville.

ADHD and Your Life

In children with ADHD, bad decisions can lead to a lot of bumps and bruises. They are accident-prone, says Barkley. A kid could try to slide down the stairs on a suitcase or attempt an ill-conceived stunt on a skateboard or bike, for examples.

As you get older, the risks come with higher stakes, like car accidents, STDs, and unplanned pregnancies. A teen or young adult with ADHD is more likely to use nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana.

For adults, untreated ADHD can affect work, home, safety, and everything in between.

You may take risks on the job and get injured, or you might quit your job on impulse. You may buy things on whims and use credit cards to excess, leaving yourself big debts.

People with ADHD have a higher-than-average divorce rate, too.

If you're in a relationship, tell your partner how your ADHD may affect you.

Tips to Manage Your Impulses

If you think you may have ADHD, talk to your doctor. If you're diagnosed with the condition, your doctor will likely prescribe you medication.

A recent study showed that men with ADHD who were on medication for it were less likely to get in car accidents than those who weren't on ADHD meds.

Also effective, experts say, is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It’s a form of talk therapy that helps people change their thoughts and behaviors. It can help with self-control as well as motivation, organization, and time management, says Barkley. Ask your psychiatrist or primary care doctor for a referral.

Some people get help from an ADHD coach. A coach can do things like check in with you several times a week to see how you’re progressing with your goals. Make sure the coach has a master’s degree in counseling or a related mental health field, says Barkley, author of Taking Charge of Adult ADHD.

You can take some helpful steps on your own, as well.

  • If you know a night out can end in trouble, don’t go to bars.
  • You won’t be as tempted to use your phone while driving if you keep it turned off.
  • Is impulse shopping a problem for you? Make a habit of leaving your credit cards at home.
Reviewed on June 11, 2014

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